The Legal Aid Society was honored on May 31 by the Interfaith Assembly on Homelessness and Housing with its Builder of the Blessed City Award in recognition of the Society's "tireless efforts and inspiring leadership since 1876 in the crucial work of ensuring that the precious promise of justice is kept to those in our society who otherwise could not afford the legal representation to secure it" at the 27th annual Interfaith Convocation.
Jane Sujen Bock, a Staff Attorney in the Civil Practice's Homeless Rights Project, accepted the award for The Legal Aid Society. In her remarks, Jane traced the relationship between the Interfaith Assembly and the faith community with The Legal Aid Society and the advocacy on behalf of homeless families.
Remarks of Jane Sujen Bock accepting the award for The Legal Aid Society:
I am so honored and grateful to accept this Builder of the Blessed City award on behalf of The Legal Aid Society. It has been our privilege to work for decades with Interfaith Assembly and the faith community on behalf of homeless families.
Many years ago, it was the religious leaders who submitted affidavits in our litigation to establish a right to shelter and who condemned the City's practice of leaving homeless children and their parents to sleep on the floors of Emergency Assistance Units.
It was Rev. Martha Overall and her St. Ann's congregation who took into their church basement homeless families who the City had ejected from the Path office until we were able to take legal action to get those families back into shelter.
It was Father Mark Hallinan and other members of the faith community who spoke out against the City's plan to charge homeless people for shelter and to kick homeless families and individuals out of shelter altogether for rule infractions.
And now it is Marc Greenberg and Larry Wood and Interfaith Assembly who lead the call for a sustainable rent subsidy program, along with the Coalition for the Homeless and other partners. Without subsidized housing that reflects people's actual incomes, and without education and programs that enable them to obtain and retain jobs so they can afford to pay rent on their own, the City is dooming thousands of families to repeat homelessness, at huge cost to these children and adults, as well as to the City.
This afternoon, Legal Aid Society Attorney-in-Chief Steve Banks argued the Advantage rent subsidy case in the Court of Appeals in Albany. You should be able to watch a video of the argument on the Court of Appeals website next week.
Just to recap, after the City announced the end of the Advantage program in March 2011, Legal Aid and Weil were able to obtain injunctions requiring the City to pay $115 million in Advantage subsidies for a period of 10 months. Sadly, we lost the case and our appellate injunction in February, leaving nearly 8,000 families and individuals at risk of eviction. In an extraordinary move, the Court of Appeals expedited our appeal and heard argument today.
This afternoon, some of the judges expressed deep concern about the City's luring homeless families and small landlords into the Advantage program with rent “guarantees” that the City now says they never intended to be bound by. Some judges expressed concern about the domestic violence survivors who now face homelessness again -- or a return to their batterers. And speaking of the Blessed City, one of the judges said to the City's lawyer, “So you had the money, but you chose to spend it on other things.”
We expect a decision this summer. In the meantime, evictions of Advantage tenants who were prematurely deprived of their rent payments have already occurred, and many others are pending. We thank you again for your efforts on behalf of these vulnerable families as well as other homeless New Yorkers.
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